It’s unclear who had the bigger job: the one forced to do the writing or the one forced to do the forcing. Either way, the results were a victory for all.
One year and seven essays into writing my very own column for Magazyn Wino, I am equal parts satisfied, grateful and relieved. I’m proud of the achievement, which is both more tangible than so much of the confidentiality-bound work that I do—and infinitely more mouth-watering. (It is also in Polish, and I seem to have passed what loomed as a long-overdue test in my non-English ability.) I’m grateful to the amazing team at Magazyn Wino, both past and present, for trusting me with the job and for the ways they’ve inspired me to produce essays worth reading. And I’m relieved to find the writing itself increasingly familiar and manageable. Sure, it’s still pretty overwhelming to get an article ready for review, but it’s no longer a nightmare to get started in the first place, or to figure out when I’m done.
Pictured below is my content in the final two issues of Magazyn Wino in 2016. One was a deep dive into stock, the other a scrutiny of the spice rack. Coming soon is my essay on cream soups, which I wrote in January, featuring a handful of inspiring ideas and a handy master recipe. Then, in the April issue, I’ll be divulging the details of an unexpected diet I’ve been following—and sharing a few recipes, including one for these amazing wheat-free beet crackers, above, which have become a dangerously addictive household favorite. But that’s an essay I haven’t even begun to start finishing yet. Hence this post, I guess: a wayward excursion away from the piece I actually need to be writing.
Known to many only for its role in bird feed and pig fodder, millet is a gluten-free grain with some amazing health benefits. Notably, it’s rich in iron, hostile to candida and highly alkalizing (a boon in these over-acidified times). According to Ayurveda, millet counteracts cold and congested conditions by heating and drying the body. Then again, Chinese medicine puts it down as a cooling grain, though surely one with potential for a mid-winter meal.
Unfortunately, most of the time millet’s pretty camel-yellow beads wind up pasty, mushy or gluey when cooked. While some insist on defending this “creamy” texture, I find it insipid and incompatible with millet’s metalllic-tinged, slightly bitter flavor profile. In fact, what this grain needs most is fluffiness, nutty and sweet toasted notes and a tooth-engaging chew. Luckily there’s a pretty easy way to make it so.
The secret is to combine loads of pre-rinsing with some heating action before the actual cooking takes place. The best way, which I first discovered in The Splendid Grain by American natural foods expert Rebecca Wood, involves toasting, then rinsing, then cooking the grains using the absorption method in a covered pot. Another, related, solution is to use several changes of boiling water to give the millet the thorough rinsing it requires. (Obviously when the water is scalding hot, you can’t use your fingers to rub the grains gently together and rid them of their chalky dust; use a wooden spoon.)
To toast the grains lightly in an oven, try 5-10 minutes at 170°C, staying as vigilant as when toasting easy-to-burn nuts and seeds. Or use a skillet over moderate heat, stirring, tossing or shaking constantly. It’s important to keep the grains from burning or turning dark before cooking. Three minutes in a cast-iron skillet usually does the trick. If you burn a batch—save it for the birds and start over. Next, it’s crucial to rinse the toasted grains thoroughly in several changes of cold water. Get in there, use your hands; you want the rinse water to run clear. To cook, cover the strained grains with double their volume of boiling water, add a fat dash of salt and a spoonful of butter or ghee, cover tightly and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, but let stand, covered, for at least 10 more minutes. Uncover, fluff, season to taste with plenty more salty butter and serve.
This is how we make one of the basic morning meals at our house, usually tossing in a few quartered dried figs and five or six green cardamom pods with the millet. We then add additional ghee, toasted nuts and honey or maple syrup at the table. Nutmeg and cinnamon make another great flavor combination, alongside a smattering of raisins. Or try chopped dried apricots (orange or brown) and pitted dates nestled in with a vanilla bean. For us, millet has become an archetypal breakfast dish, so we don’t experiment with swapping in olive oil and sweated onion for the butter and fruit, or stock for the boiling water. But that’s the way to go if it’s dinner you’re after.
As you can see, making millet edible is not only possible, but quite easy. Though I should probably mention that sometimes it also requires a lot of maple syrup, and maybe also the undivided attention of one who is willing to play Mikado ad infinitum.
Days before the year’s close, another dismantling was on display outside our windows. Breathtaking views tugged at unexpecting heart strings, coloring the monumental with shades of nostalgia. The workers, strangers before, now waved back to a captivated boy and the mom with the camera. The fourth wall demolished, lives on display. It felt like the last day of summer, heavy and fleeting at once.
What had begun so concurrently with our own grand-scale reconstruction as to seem a reflection of it had grown apart from us, into familiar permanence. It became a beacon of industry regarded with nothing but wonder. A weathervane for the astronauts, or a colossal plant on the windowsill, turning as if toward and away from the sun. Now, the giant stalk is picked apart, dimensions collapse, a landscape is shocked into change.
The transition is over, the construction has been a success. Soon, orchids will peek out of windows that haven’t yet been fitted with panes. It is, so aptly, a time to celebrate endings, embrace emergence, mourn permanence.
In the year to come, we will remember the crane that seemed close enough to reach out and touch with our hands. We will strive to live well, wave back, bear loss and reclaim the sky.
Photos of the construction site at Warsaw’s Różana taken by the author on the morning of December 28, 2016.
Emotions ran high, routines were disruptive: key moments were missed, but the spirit has been captured.
All rights reserved.
Earthy and woodsy, filling yet vegetal, cream of beet soup with rosemary is both a fresh take on Polish holiday food and warming all-purpose winter fare. Made with water instead of stock, it is easy to prepare and boasts clean flavors that marry well with a garnish of olive-oil croutons seasoned with garlic and rosemary. Other tasty possible toppings include roasted or sautéed potatoes or yams, as well as raw apples or pears, chopped and dressed lightly with cider vinegar or lemon juice and fruity olive oil.
You can download the recipe, but be warned it’s po polsku. If Polish isn’t your thing, here’s a summary: Soften a small onion or a couple of shallots in olive oil, along with the finely minced leaves of one stem of rosemary (about 1 tsp, which is plenty). Add a smashed clove of garlic, making sure nothing is browning. Now add three medium beets and one medium potato, peeled and in chunks, enough water to cover and at least a half-teaspoon of salt. Cook at a steady simmer, until the vegetables yield to a fork. Season the soup with salt, pepper and lemon juice or cider vinegar to taste. When it cools a bit, transfer to a free-standing blender or blend carefully using an immersion blender. Add water by the tablespoon to reach the desired consistency and adjust seasoning as required. When ready to eat, heat only what you need: beets lose their gorgeous color when reheated willy-nilly. Serve with swirls of cream or drizzles of olive oil, making sure to include chunky toppings of croutons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, smoked fish, chopped fruit or crumbled cheese if you’ve opted for a one-course meal.
For those here to read about more than the food, I have a bit to explain. For instance, how I fantasized about the iconic cookware line by Ole Palsby, designed in 1979 for Danish housewares company Eva Solo, years before I ever allowed myself the indulgence. And then, once I finally had my chosen selection of pots and ingeniously flat lids, how I immediately proceeded to ruin one of the brand-new snow white soup pots with my metal-tipped immersion blender. As it turned out, the ceramic coating, although excellent in countless ways, doesn’t withstand abuse from metal utensils. After some deliberating, I decided to replace two of the White Line stockpots with sturdy stainless equivalents—which also offer faster responsiveness with an induction cooktop, as well as a rivet-free interior, which I prefer.
I am thrilled with the design and functionality of my pots, saucepans and those ingeniously flat, stackable, game-changing lids (the glass ones are turning out to be my favorite). I am, of course, more cautious than I had planned to be with the saucepan surfaces, but the extra care is well worth the advantages of a blank canvas for the food as it cooks, with true non-stick functionality and outstanding heat transfer. I have a feeling I won’t be able to resist adding to my collection of award-winning Eva Trio cookware.